Commissioners consider rodeo funding following controversial grant

The Evergreen Rodeo Drill Team carries flags Saturday at the Middle Park Fair and Rodeo.
Amy Golden /

A Grand County commissioner has asked that the relationship with rodeos in the county be re-evaluated, including those on private grounds.

On Tuesday, the Board of Grand County Commissioners discussed financing for the Flying Heels Rodeo Arena, which is budgeted with the Kremmling Fairgrounds and Arena.

Flying Heels is home to the Flying Heels Rodeo Series, and Kremmling hosts the Middle Park Fair and Rodeo. A third rodeo venue in Grand, High Country Stampede Rodeo, does not receive the same funding from the county and is not hosted on county land.

The Flying Heels and Middle Park organizations fill out facility use forms for each event they have on the county-owned fairgrounds. By doing so as nonprofits, the rodeos do not have to pay fees.

The county also budgeted $142,000 for the two facilities this year, including $60,000 for personnel.

“For a county to support a fairground is very normal,” said Commissioner Rich Cimino, who requested the workshop. “For a county — even if it’s small dollars — to support an extra one, well that’s a bit abnormal.”

Cimino’s concern came in part from a grant given to Flying Heels from the now-dissolved Recreation, Open Space and Housing Foundation.

ROSH was established as part of the negotiations to annex Granby Ranch into Granby. Granby Ranch residents paid a transfer fee on home sales that went into the fund managed by ROSH to support recreation, open space and housing around Granby.

This year there was some controversy over where and how these funds were being spent. The Granby Board of Trustees voted to dissolve the ROSH board in April when issues came up over financial and legal disparities. The ROSH board decided that the remaining funds would go to the Grand Foundation to be distributed within Granby.

Before dispersing, ROSH granted Flying Heels $200,000 for improvements. Cimino alleged that this was partly responsible for the end of the foundation.

“I saw county actions over this year that broke the back of ROSH,” he said. “Now that’s a public good that’s dissolved forever and it’s frustrating.”

Cimino said he disagreed with the trustees’ decision. However, Commissioner Merrit Linke differed about what squashed ROSH.

“I don’t agree with you that (the Flying Heels grant is) what pushed it over the edge,” Linke said. “I think there’s been movement … these last few years. That’s speculation. That’s anecdotal.”

Commissioner Linke also pointed out that the Flying Heels fairgrounds has been used by other events not associated with the rodeo. Flying Heels Rodeo organizer Tish Linke, sister to Merrit Linke, attended the workshop and defended the organization’s actions.

“To try to improve a county facility to be able to attract more events and things — it’s not just one entity benefiting,” Tish Linke said of the grant. “I don’t know why you don’t want money for the county to improve a county facility.”

Elaine Henrekin, who served on the ROSH board when Flying Heels was awarded the money and when the board voted to dissolve, asserted that the Flying Heels grant did not lead to ROSH’s end.

However, Cimino also highlighted the fact that the rodeo in his district did not receive the same subsidies that the Granby and Kremmling rodeos received. The Fraser-based High Country Stampede Rodeo does not have the public ties that the other rodeos have because it is on privately owned land.

“I think the Kremmling events are phenomenal,” Cimino said. “I think the Granby events are phenomenal. And I think I see the door close to provide equal opportunity to the third venue … When it comes to county subsidies for these activities, we should really provide the subsidies as equally as we can.”

One idea for more equal access was for the county to purchase 1% of the Stampede Rodeo facility, if the owners are willing to sell, to make it public land. Cimino asked that the county attorney explore options to make the same subsidizing opportunities at the other rodeos available to the Stampede Rodeo.

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